Zimbabwe

Polio the target as 2 million Zimbabwean children are vaccinated by health campaign

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HARARE, 6 June - Two million Zimbabwean children are currently being reached in the country's critical Child Health Days. All will receive a polio vaccination.

The campaign, which was launched on Monday, is "on track to meet its bold targets and is vital for child survival amid the challenges in Zimbabwe today", said UNICEF's Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr Fest Kavishe.

Now a permanent feature on the health calendar, the Child Health Days seek to reach every corner of the country and every child under five through routine immunization and Vitamin "A" supplements.

The campaign comes at a critical time, as families are under ever-greater pressure from record high inflation, unemployment and orphan numbers, and severe economic stresses. The focus of this year's campaign is on eradicating polio. The campaign will see all under-five children receive the first round of polio vaccinations, in a two-phase national immunisation campaign.

"Massive efforts dedicated health workers and communities meant Zimbabwe was declared polio free in 1999," said UNICEF's Kavishe. "Yet the threatof polio remains very real, with recent cases in Botswana and Namibia.

"This week-long campaign, with essential funding from the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), Canada's International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Government of Ireland, is a critical boost to health services that are under great stress in Zimbabwe," added Kavishe.

The Child Health Days initiative is an intensive campaign with US$1 million spent on vaccines, logistics and staff time. Hundreds of health workers and volunteers have been trained and supported by the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare and UNICEF. Public health facilities, schools and churches have become immunisation centres, as children are protected against tuberculosis, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B and polio, and receive Vitamin A supplementation.

Past child health drives in Zimbabwe have proven the campaign-method is highly successful. Recent campaigns have boosted Vitamin A coverage from less than 10% in 2005 to over 80% today. Overall immunisation coverage, which had dropped by almost 50%, has once again reached more than 70%. Much of these successes are due to the determination of neighborhood health committees and religious and traditional leaders who have been at the forefront of encouraging mothers to bring their children for vaccination.

With donor assistance from the UK and Japan, UNICEF provides support to the Zimbabwe Expanded Programme on Immunisation (ZEPI) and procures all vaccines for immunisation, cold chain equipment for vaccine storage and technical support to the health workers.

"These nationwide campaigns are the single most important support towards reducing child illnesses and deaths in Zimbabwe," said UNICEF's Head of Health in Zimbabwe, Dr Colleta Kibassa. "However, past successes have to be maintained and built upon. Our aim must remain to reach all of Zimbabwe's children."

For further information, please contact:

James Elder
UNICEF Zimbabwe Chief of Communications
Tel: + 263 912 276120Email: jelder@unicef.org